Poll: David Vitter closing in on John Bel Edwards in final days of gubernatorial runoff _lowres

John Bel Edwards, left, and David Vitter

State Rep. John Bel Edwards went for the jugular in the governor’s race Friday, releasing a new TV ad that tells viewers they have a choice between him, a former Army Ranger, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who solicited a prostitute.

Flashing images of Edwards in his military fatigues, the ad says that while Edwards answered the country’s call to serve as a Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division, Vitter took a prostitute’s call on the floor of Congress minutes after skipping a vote “honoring 28 soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our freedom.”

“David Vitter chose prostitutes over patriots,” the ad concludes. “Now, the choice is yours.”

The ad will begin airing during the LSU-Alabama game Saturday night — on the day early voting begins for the Nov. 21 election — and marks an entirely new bare-knuckled approach from Edwards. For the past 10 days, Vitter and his political allies have been airing ads that make Edwards look soft on crime and that show Edwards on a split-screen with President Barack Obama and call him a liberal. Until now, Edwards had not aired an attack ad against Vitter.

Edwards had also shied away from directly confronting Vitter over the senator’s 2007 admission that he committed a “very serious sin” in relation to the D.C. Madam.

The Vitter campaign released this statement: “As a veteran, I think it’s disgusting that John Bel Edwards is using veteran’s grave stones in a gutter political attack ad,” said retired Army Col. Evans Spiceland, co-chairman of Veterans for Vitter. “This is a disgrace to those of us who actually live by the honor code.”

Social media erupted immediately after Gannett Newspapers — which got an advance look at the ad from the Edwards campaign — broke the news of it Friday afternoon.

“Gloves off,” @usatoday2016 said in one Tweet.

“BAM!” wrote @BossMedia Comm.

The Edwards campaign had said privately weeks ago that it had damaging material on Vitter but wanted to wait until the runoff before airing it. The Edwards campaign feared that releasing the material during the primary might knock out Vitter and leave Edwards facing either of the other two Republicans, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne or Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. Edwards wanted to face Vitter, believing that it would be easier to defeat him.

Everything went according to plan. Angelle and Dardenne faced attack ad after attack ad from Vitter and counter-punched by calling him a “liar” and “deceitful.” During two debates, Angelle brutally reminded viewers of the prostitution scandal.

Edwards finished first in the primary while a wounded Vitter finished second. Polls show Edwards with a 9- to 20-point lead two weeks before election day.

In announcing the ad Friday, the Edwards campaign made available previously released records showing that the D.C. Madam, Deborah Palfrey, called Vitter when he was on the House floor during a series of votes.

The new — and potentially most damaging element — was to show that Vitter got a call from Palfrey on Feb. 27, 2001, only 39 minutes after missing a vote on House Concurrent Resolution 39. It honored “the ultimate sacrifice” of 28 soldiers killed by an Iraqi missile attack on Feb. 25, 1991, during Operation Desert Storm. Vitter was among 35 House members in the 435-member House who didn’t vote on it.

In ruby red Louisiana, Edwards has highlighted his background as a West Point cadet and Army Ranger, beginning with his first TV campaign ad in September, as a way of reassuring voters that it would be acceptable to elect a Democrat in a state where only Republicans hold statewide office.

Vitter has countered with a TV ad featuring Kevin Wise, an ex-Army Ranger from St. Tammany Parish, who was badly injured during a helicopter accident in the United States. Wise thanked Vitter for getting him an operation at a Veterans Affairs clinic, before he lost his leg or his life. The ad concluded with the tagline: “Veterans for Vitter. Period.”

Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of the governor’s race, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog/.